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One of Singapore’s oldest shopping malls, Thomson Plaza has been home to the first Swensen’s in the country. It was also popular due to Yaohan, the first Japanese supermarket chain to open in Singapore.
Nestled within landed housing estate in Upper Thomson Road stands one of Singapore’s oldest shopping malls – and one of the first to provide a wide range of services to the area.
Opening in 1979, it occupied the site of the former Heap Hoe Rubber Factory, which had to make way in the early 1970s for the residential estate surrounding it. The largest piece of land – some two hectares – was where the old factory buildings stood and is where the mall stands now.
Apart from its initial no-frills design, a feature of the mall is its pedestrian ramps that cut across the centre of the building, linking its levels and helping wheelchair users go from floor to floor.
Thomson Plaza was in fact one of the first few public places in Singapore designed to enhance accessibility for the mobility-impaired. For example, obstructions were minimised, doors were designed to be wheelchair accessible, and were fitted with lever handles – which can be pushed instead of knobs that must be turned.
The building was also designed as a mostly low-rise development, with just four floors, so as not to tower over the houses nearby. However, there was still room to contain 120 shop units.
The mall was developed by DBS Bank, which also developed Plaza Singapura some years before. What both malls had in common was anchor tenant Yaohan, the Japanese department store popular for its food hall concept. Till its closure in 1997, Yaohan was so well-known in the area that many residents called the mall Thomson Yaohan.
Swensen’s also opened its first outlet in Singapore at Thomson Plaza, bringing a slice of old-school Americana to our shores. At that time, dining in Swensen’s meant gazing at gorgeous colourful Tiffany lamps and hoping to snag a booth seat in a mock-up of a retro San Francisco cable car.
Though it has undergone renovations since then, and the Tiffany lamps and “cable car” are no more, the outlet is still going strong after 40 years.
In late 2019, Thomson Plaza was undergoing major renovations, including the building of a new entrance that will be ready at the same time as the upcoming Upper Thomson MRT station on the Thomson-East Coast Line, slated to open in 2020.
Buildings and sites featured on Roots.SG are part of our efforts to raise awareness of our heritage; a listing on Roots.SG does not imply any form of preservation or conservation status, unless it is mentioned in the article. The information in this article is valid as of December 2019 and is not intended to be an exhaustive history of the site/building.